NEW YORK — Gregg Berhalter surely knew that the second he revealed that he plans to call up American teenage sensation Gio Reyna to the U.S. Men’s National Team it would send the already-supersonic Reyna hype train into overdrive, but the USMNT coach isn’t about to be carried away by it.
Reyna’s recent success at Borussia Dortmund, which has included him becoming the youngest American to ever play in the UEFA Champions League and youngest player to ever score in the DFB Pokal, has shown Berhalter enough to convince him that now is the right time to bring Reyna into the USMNT fold, but he isn’t about to throw the 17-year-old into a starting national team role when he’s only just recently begun his professional career.
“It’s also managing that side of it, and not worrying about fan expectations because you also have a young player who needs to adapt to the demands of professional soccer,” Berhalter told SBI on Wednesday. “It’s really important to be mindful of that, and just as much as he’s made progress now he can he can lose time if he gets injured or he stops playing.”
Berhalter’s decision to call Reyna for the March friendlies against Netherlands and Wales isn’t a surprise considering his recent play with Borussia Dortmund, but it a dramatic turn of events considering his disappointing performance at the Under-17 World Cup, when projecting him for a USMNT call-up just four months later would have been tough to envision.
“If you could imagine the year that Gio had last year, where he’s at Dortmund, but he can’t play games, because he’s not of the age doesn’t have his passport yet,” Berhalter said. “It was a very choppy year for him in terms of his development. And I think we saw some of that in the U-17 (World Cup). You can tell he didn’t have rhythm.
“So he went to preseason with Dortmund and he continued to play, he’s playing games, he’s training with the first team sometimes, and kept increasing his performance there. And then got an opportunity with the first team, went to preseason,” Berhalter said. “You can see he has rhythm now and he has a good understanding of what the team wants to do. And they’re using him in a way where they’re they’re not asking him to take full responsibility in terms of he doesn’t have to carry a team.
“He’s playing a role and he’s executing his role.”
Reyna’s quick evolution into a second-half threat off the bench for Dortmund has seen the teenager emerge as a real attacking threat, even against top teams, as evidenced by his assist in Dortmund’s recent 2-1 win against Paris Saint German. That performance, among others, showed Berhalter the difference-making ability he is developing at a young age.
“When he gets the ball in the pocket, his awareness to turn, and his efficiency in when he’s turning his excellent,” Berhalter said. “Doesn’t waste any touches turning, and turns right away. Second thing is his ball security under pressure is phenomenal. There’s a play against PSG where he got the ball on the sideline, and (Thomas) Meunier and, I forgot who, they’re trying to close him down and he just turns and gets out of pressure. Meunier got a yellow card, but he just did it with with so much awareness that it was really impressive.”
Berhalter is in a unique position when it comes to Reyna in particular because Berhalter and Reyna’s father, former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna, are close friends who grew up together in New Jersey, so Berhalter knows Gio Reyna better than most of the players he would be bringing into the national team fold.
“It’s really something where, you know, it’s my first instinct is to look after him as a person,” Berhalter told SBI. “And because of what he you know what he means to the family.”
Berhalter isn’t about to baby Reyna, but he also knows how important it is to bring along a young player into the national team at the right pace.
“You use common sense,” Berhalter said.